Person: Freundlich, Erwin Finlay
Finlay Freundlich was a distinguished German astronomer who worked with Einstein on measurements of the orbit of Mercury to confirm the general theory of relativity. He left Germany to avoid Nazi rule and became the Napier Professor of Astronomy at St Andrews.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Perhaps it is worth explaining that Finlay Freundlich only called himself "Finlay" after he came to live in Scotland (this being a Scottish name); he was known as Erwin Freundlich for the first fifty years of his life.
- At eighteen years of age, in 1903, Freundlich completed his school education and went to work in the dockyards in Stettin.
- The health problem was a heart condition and, when he had recovered, Freundlich decided not to continue his course on naval architecture but rather to enter the University of Göttingen to study mathematics, physics and astronomy.
- At Göttingen, Freundlich was a student of Klein.
- Freundlich was awarded a doctorate by the University of Göttingen for a thesis on analytic function theory in 1910.
- Klein suggested to Freundlich that he might wish to apply for a post as an assistant at the Royal Observatory in Berlin and his appointment was confirmed on 1 July 1910.
- Already there was evidence that the orbit of Mercury did not fit that predicted by Newton's theory of gravitation and in 1911 Einstein asked Freundlich to make accurate observations of Mercury's orbit.
- Freundlich worked with Einstein in 1911 attempting to make the measurements of Mercury's orbit required to confirm the general theory of relativity.
- He confirmed it in a paper of 1913 but Freundlich had to go against the wishes of the Director of the Berlin Observatory who strongly advised him against publishing such a revolutionary idea.
- It is important to realise how daring this publication by Freundlich was, for it claimed that Newton's theory of gravitation, so long held as one of the greatest achievements of the human mind, was wrong.
- Freundlich was interested in measuring the deflection in a light ray passing close to the sun since again Einstein's incomplete theory of relativity suggested that this test could be used to check the validity of the theory and show that Newton's theory was incorrect.
- The only way to make such measurements at this time was during an eclipse and Freundlich wanted to journey to somewhere within the path of totality of the eclipse which would happen in 1914.
- Such expeditions cost considerable amounts of money but Freundlich had the good fortune of being introduced to Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach by a friend.
- He was impressed by Freundlich and, having considerable funds at his disposal, offered to finance an expedition to Feodosiya in the Crimea.
- Freundlich was interned for a while before being able to return to Berlin.
- Freundlich's book Grundlagen der Einsteinschen Gravitationstheorie Ⓣ(Fundamentals of Einstein's theory of gravitation) discussed the ways that the general theory of relativity could be tested by astronomical observations.
- In 1918 Freundlich resigned his post in Berlin to work full time with Einstein.
- Through his intimate contact with Einstein, Freundlich was the first to become thoroughly acquainted with the fundamental principles of the new gravitational theory and, as Einstein himself remarks in the foreword of Freundlich's book, he was particularly well qualified as its exponent because he had been the first to attempt to put it to the test.
- In 1920 the Einstein Institute was created as the Astrophysical Observatory in Potsdam and Freundlich was appointed as observer there in 1921.
- During this period Freundlich planned three further expeditions to observe an eclipse and measure the deflection of light passing close to the sun.
- However, one to Sumatra in 1929 was completely successful but the value which Freundlich found for the deflection of light was more than that predicted by Einstein's theory.
- Having one grandparent of the Jewish religion made someone non-Aryan, so this affected Freundlich.
- In Istanbul Freundlich helped create a modern observatory.
- Eddington had advised the Principal of the University of St Andrews that Freundlich was an outstanding person to both create the department of astronomy and to organise the construction of an observatory.
- In St Andrews Freundlich fitted in easily.
- Freundlich was very close to me.
- Once we went on holiday together to the West coast of Scotland, when Mrs Freundlich was unable to come.
- Freundlich became the Napier Professor of Astronomy in St Andrews on 1 January 1951, a post he held until 1955 when the university regulations forced him to retire.
- In 1957 Freundlich left for Wiesbaden where he was appointed honorary professor at the University of Mainz.
- Improvements to the telescope were made by van Breda and others after Freundlich left St Andrews.
Born 29 May 1885, Biebrich, Germany. Died 24 July 1964, Wiesbaden, Germany.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Origin Germany, Physics
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive